Sunday, February 27, 2011

4. Lessons from Learning Object Design

A Study of the Design and Evaluation of a Learning Object and Implications for Content Development
by Ferdinand Krauss and Mohamed Ally
Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, Volume 1, 2005

This article is quite intriguing and at first it may seem to be detached from the idea and challenges of online learning and adaptation processes. I approached the article from professional experience and background working with the creation of digital learning objects which Ally broadly define as "any digital resource that can be used and re-used to achieve a specific learning outcome or outcomes" (Ally, 2004a, p.3)

Right from the beginning, even if one does not have direct experience in the field of learning objects, one can see how developing one or many as part of a complex resource deals with digital resources that can be put to work to achieve learning objectives. And one of the investigations being completed in this ESL Adaptation project is to consider digital learning environments and how they work, so that instructors have support and solid references to fall back on as they move towards online formats of delivering their programs.

However, the article goes deeper into the understanding of the designing, developing and testing of learning objects in a specific field (pharmacy to be precise) and considers designing implications that directly affect online learning. These are the analysis and documentation of processes to design the learning objects (LOs) and the evaluation of the practices used to develop the LOs. At the basis of these steps are foundational considerations around theory of learning and instruments that can be used to evaluate the achievement of specific set outcomes. So, in other words, almost every step of the way the article contains valuable reflections for online learning.

A few highlights follow:

  • Shaw (2002) stated that in developing learning resources one should begin with a genuine instructional problem and should strive to achieve outcomes, which are otherwise impossible. (page 1) - first reflection point - online learning and resources developed to support it must be genuinely suited for their purpose given the context and the understanding that the outcomes they set cannot be otherwise achieved.
  • The article presents a balance between behaviorist and constructivist approaches, and how both have a deep impact on instructional design decisions. The ideas of the correlation between stimulus and response is at the basis of outcome based planning, while the idea of knowledge as social construction supports elements such as scaffolding, feedback and support for the creation of successful learning environments.
  • The article directly relates the framework for the study on the work of Abdelhamid (1999) and his Multi-dimensional Learning Model (MDLM) and its key three features: the generation effect (inductive thinking generated knowledge); the spreading activation model (interconnectedness of data and the importance of contextualized information) and the use of pictures (graphic and multimedia support to learning resource). These factors can all be easily connected to online learning environments in general, as key elements to create successful learning environments.
  • Focus of process rather than product - "The role of the instructor would be to provide the process-based frameworks and guidance for integrating the various resources and approaches." (page 4)
  • The basic approach to learning theory that states that no one strategy is comprehensive and sufficient to attack the learning problems and propose extensive solutions. Integration of approaches, using a multitude of methods is the more desirable way of proceeding, in iterative steps, founding designing steps on models that most closely relate to the specific challenges at hand.
  • The importance for learners to be able to manipulate the data gathered or selected and the building of new knowledge based on collaborative environments.
  • The importance of feedback (time and complexity of responses)
  • Learning goals must be explicitly stated and available to learners, the sequence suggested must be pedagogically sound and possible present choices to the learner so that they can find their most suited path to understanding, application of knowledge and higher level thinking. 
  • Generative learning theory is also found in the approach of the study - learners must be actively engaged and responsible for processing the information.
  • The use of support of metacognition by guiding students with direct instruction about use of learning strategies and then allowing learners to own their learning.
The most positive reflection in the article is one at the end of the conclusion and recommendations section: "more time should be spent on exchanging best practices for designing and applying learning objects to instructional contexts than content itself" (page 16).  The article supports a fundamental belief that sharing not only the end products but especially the process to arriving to positive applications and steps on creating learning environments is essential to improving understanding and reaching set goals.

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